"posture-boy" = 'equilibrist', 1748, not in OED

Joel S. Berson Berson at ATT.NET
Sat Sep 24 16:01:29 UTC 2011

"posture-boy" = 'equilibrist', 1748, not in OED.  Deserving or not?

Whereas the Curious M[us]ical Machine,the Posture Boy, &c. at the
house of John Willia[ms] in King Street, are to be shewn ... but a
very little while [lon]ger in this Town, those minded to see the
same, are desired to give sp[eed]y attendance. ... N.B. any Gentlemen
or Ladies th[at] have a Desire to see the said Machine and
Posture-Boy at their Hou[se] may be gratified therein (in the Day
time) by sending for the same, [pro]vided there be a Company of 12
Persons at least, or Pay equivalent for [th]at Number, at _Ten
Shillings_, old Tenor, each.

Boston Evening-Post, 1748 Feb. 29, 2/1.  [Leap day seems a peculiarly
inappropriate date to talk about an equilibrist.]  EAN.  (This does
not show up in EAN search, nor does EAN find any other "posture-boy"s.)

Ten shillings a person may seem tremendously expensive, but in 1748
Massachusetts's old Tenor was very much depreciated compared to sterling.

(The page is torn.  The missing letters are supplied by Mary Caroline
Crawford, in "Social Life in Old New England" (Boston: Little, Brown,
1914), p. 446, and by myself.)
The OED has an entry for "posture-maker" (1. A person who makes
postures; an acrobat, a contortionist; = posture-master n. 1), from
1711.  The next quotation is:

1747    in E. Singleton Social N.Y. under Georges (1902) vi. v.
316   A most curious Posture-Maker Boy, who performs with the utmost

Evolved to "posture-boy" by the next year?
There are surely earlier quotations, perhaps locatable in English
periodicals or newspapers from 1741 on.

 From "A biographical dictionary of actors, actresses, musicians,
dancers, managers & other stage personnel in London, 1660-1800, by
Philip H. Highfill, Jr., Kalman A. Burnim, and Edward A. Langhans
(Carbondale : Southern Illinois University Press, 1973-), vol. 13, page 144:

Russian Posture Boy, The.  fl. 1741-1751?, posture-maker, equilibrist.
      At ... Bartholomew Fair on 22 August 1741, according to _The
London Stage_, the audience was entertained by the "surprising
Performances of the famous little Prussian Posture Boy, lately
arrived from Berlin." That reference, we believe, is to the "Russian
Posture Boy." _The London Stage_ contains a similar error, it
appears, when it calls him "the Ruffian" boy on 26 August 1742. That
year at Bartholomew Fair he again gave "curious performances".  [It
appears that even in the 18th century printers had difficulty with
the long s!] ...
     John Greene has found advertisements of a company [including]
the "Russian Posture Boy," who per;formed a "ne surprizing Equiliber
on the Chairs ..."
     [Additional references to advertisements through 1751, but
unfortunately no source citations are given.]

_The London Stage_ is presumably "The London stage; a critical
introduction, by Emmett L. Avery [and others]
Carbondale, Southern Illinois University Press [1968].  The 1741
quotation is presumably 18th century (capitalized "Performance".  But
not knowing or having "The London Stage" I do not know how to find it.

Google Books has no quotations for "posture-boy" (quoted) before 1799.


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